Brantley native inducted into Ala. Blues Hall of Fame

Published 8:29 pm Wednesday, September 20, 2017

A familiar name for Crenshaw County residents will join the likes of Hank Williams, Nat King Cole, W.C. Handy and others Saturday night.

Brantley native Stanford “Guitar Slim” Barnes, one of the River Region’s most lauded musicians, will be the latest inductee into the Alabama Blues Hall of Fame on Sept. 23.

Barnes’ status as one of the state’s most recognizable blues musicians is a far cry from his humble upbringing, raised on a plantation right outside of Brantley called Smith Farms.

“We didn’t have anything extra in life, but we had the essentials of life,” Barnes said. “I picked cotton and did all the routine things that farmers did. We weren’t sharecroppers, because my mother worked as a caretaker for Mrs. Smith, the owner’s wife.   I lived a good, basic life.”

Barnes, a Montgomery native now, still takes time to visit his hometown.  After all, his bank remains in Crenshaw County.  What’s more is that, if not for a bank situated in his hometown of Brantley, Barnes might never have become a musician at all.

“As a matter of fact, James Hollis, a banker in Brantley, loaned me the money to do my first record in 1970,” Barnes said. “He loaned me $300 to go to Muscle Shoals in 1970 to record my first record

“I went to Muscle Shoals to Fame Studios. When we would go in to do our recording, the Rolling Stones were coming out from finishing their album.”

The Rolling Stones was hardly the only act that would cross Barnes’ path.  His career took him all over the country as he played with several other hall of famers, including the likes of B.B. King, Johnnie Taylor, Slim Harpo, Wilson Pickett, John Lee Hooker and several other notables.

One of those notables, Clarence Carter, served as the catalyst for his career when he and his band came to Brantley Junior High School in 1961.  Carter was in the process of leaving the band to go solo, and they needed a guitar player.

“I auditioned at the school that night, and the rest is history,” Barnes said.

“I was just 19 years old, and those were big shoes for me to fill, being from the country like I was and not accustomed to the city life. So I came to Montgomery and I’ve been here every since.”

If Guitar Slim’s start in the industry was a fateful encounter, then the circumstances that landed him his first guitar are the stuff of legend.

He said that even after another 20 years passed, he’d be able to recite every detail–every emotion–word for word.

“I’d picked cotton on a Saturday morning and earned $1.72,” Barnes said. “My mom allowed me to keep the proceeds and come to Luverne for a movie up the same street that the Luverne Journal was on by the post office.  I could not be comfortable there because I found $10 on the bus. 

“I was sitting on the rear, long bench-like seat that they had designated for black people.  On the way back to that seat, I saw this green piece of paper lying in the middle of the aisle, so I picked it up. I’d never seen a $10 bill before.  I had a dollar, and I looked at my dollar and that $10 bill and it had the same writing on it: ‘In God We Trust.’ So I said ‘gracious alive, this is a $10 bill.’ I thought I could’ve bought that bus with $10,” he said with a laugh.

“So I folded it, kept it in my hand and went to the movie.  I was so afraid that I would lose that $10 bill that I held it so tightly it’s a wonder that the ink didn’t come off on my hand.”

After the movie, Barnes walked down the street to a music store owned by a blind gentleman named Joe Bird that was located right across from City Finance. 

He had a $32 guitar in the window, but Barnes only had $10. 

But he struck a fortuitous deal—his mother would co-sign for the remaining $22 balance, and he would pay it back.  Ultimately, the $22 tab fell to Mr. Smith, the owner of the plantation his mother worked at, but he won his guitar all the same.

Barnes could hardly fathom where that guitar would lead him at the time, and his life stands in stark contrast to his small-town childhood.  Though he says that living in a small town or going to a small school doesn’t necessitate living a small life, thanks largely in part to technology.  Today’s young people have far more opportunities than ever before.

“A young person today would have to go to the world, but now the world can come to you,” Barnes said. “You can sit at home and travel all over the world.  Back in the day, the only form of texting we had was telegram, but now you can text a person all over the world. 

“Technology has made it so that you can do everything you want to do all from your house.  You can go to college and get a PhD right from your home online—there are various ways of doing things now.”

The internet wasn’t a resource for Barnes to learn the guitar at 12 years old, but he did rely on the few resources he did have, including other people—people who had no idea the immeasurable difference their influence would have.

“There was a white cab driver in Brantley named Joe Gaines,” he said. “He taught me how to tune the guitar.  I got my first inspiration from a fellow from Andalusia named Willie Charles Perry, who would drive from Andalusia to Brantley on Sunday afternoon and teach me little things that I never learned on my own.”

Even his stage name, Guitar Slim, is something he owes to his hometown and its people.

“The first person to ever call me Slim was a man in Brantley, Ala.,” he said. “We called him Sleep Wiley.  And I was slim at that time—I was 6-foot-6 and weighed about 200 pounds.”

Though slim in stature, Barnes’ name would carry much weight throughout the musical world.  Despite that, the hall of fame induction genuinely surprised him.

“I feel as though I wasn’t worthy of that, but it’s not for me to say,” he said. “My peers thought I was, so I accepted it graciously.”

The recent accolades haven’t slowed him down at all.  In fact, he’ll be playing a gig on the very same night of his induction.

“My wife is my No. 1 fan,” Barnes said. “She drives for me, and I’ve got to drive from Tuscaloosa to Montgomery to the B.B. King Blues Club and play Saturday night.”

Barnes will be inducted Saturday at the Drish House in Tuscaloosa beginning at noon.